Low Carbohydrate Diet.
“Sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine.”
−Dr. Mark Hyman
As the name implies, a low-carbohydrate diet (LCD) involves restricting carbohydrate (carb) intake. The focus should be on limiting carbohydrate consumption to nutrient dense foods such as vegetables, nuts and dairy. Healthy protein should be consumed in moderation and the rest of the diet should consist of healthy fats. Rather than counting calories or following a scheduled meal plan, the goal is to learn to listen to your body and eat when hungry.
Before discussing the specifics of a LCD, it is important to understand macronutrients (macros). Please visit the macronutrient summary page for a fundamental explanation of the macronutrients and what impact they each have on the body.
Why try a low carbohydrate diet?
The term “seasonal fruits and vegetables” has nearly become foreign to us. A variety of produce can now be found in our grocery stores all year around. However, this was not the case for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They were able to enjoy only a fraction of our variety for short seasonal bouts. This means that high sugar fruits and starchy vegetables were not available in abundance. Grains were also rarely on the menu due to lack of refining machinery. A 2011 study, estimated that for modern American Hunter gatherers only 16-22% of caloric intake came from carbohydrates. Today, 50-60% of our diet consists of carbs. More recent epidemiological data suggests a seven fold increase in sugar consumption alone in the last 250 years. A parallel increase in obesity, metabolic syndrome, and nearly all chronic disease has also been documented. Although correlation is not causation, I encourage you to read about insulin resistance and the referenced randomized control studies which suggests that these trends are not just random associations.
How does a low-carb diet work?
Given that insulin release is triggered by carbohydrate consumption, the only direct way to treat and reverse conditions of high insulin (Hyperinsulinemia) is to decrease carbohydrate load. Carbohydrate or glycemic load refers to the total amount of carbohydrates consumed. This is different from glycemic load, which only considers how quickly blood sugar rises. Looking at glycemic index alone does not change the total insulin response. By decreasing total carbohydrate intake for an extended period of time, the body learns to be more responsive to insulin when it is present. This means that after adopting a low-carb lifestyle, you can afford to eat an occasional high carb meal without health consequences. However, if you revert to the same high carb SAD diet, insulin resistance and the associated health consequences will likely quickly return.
Is a low-carbohydrate diet safe?
There are no essential carbs or minimal requirements for daily carb intake, thus, a LCD does not directly lead to any nutritional deficiencies or adverse health effects. But, as with any diet, a LCD can become unhealthy if poor food choices are made. It is important to work with a healthcare provider to ensure that you are following healthy LCD.
How much of each macronutrient should I eat on a low-carbohydrate diet?
Macronutrients can be calculated in terms of totals grams of percent. The basic Macros breakdown of LCD should be as follows:
20-50g or 10-15% net carbohydrates (Net carbs = total carbs – fiber)
60-100g or 15-20% protein
The rest of the food intake should come from fat.
There is no specific range for fat intake, because it should be consumed in accordance with physiological hunger.
The large range for protein and carbs is to account individual differences.
Protein intake primarily depends on body mass while carb intake should be considered in terms of health goals.
What exactly should I be eating on a low carbohydrate diet?
While counting macros is essential on a LCD, considering food quality is also critical for ensuring you are following a healthy LCD. There is a large variety of clean and low-carb friendly foods you can eat. Specific meal plans are adjusted based on personal preference, feasibility and dietary restrictions.
The general rules for a clean LCD are:
1. Eat as much whole/real foods as possible. Avoid packaged and processed foods, especially those with ingredients you cannot pronounce.
2. Most carbohydrate intake should come from vegetables. A wide variety of different colourful veggies is ideal.
3. Enjoy omega 3 and decrease omega 6 intake.
4. Eliminate all trans fats. Although keto friendly, trans fats are toxic. They should be avoided.
5. Eat only when you are hungry. Do not worry about counting calories or scheduling meals. Listen to your body. It will tell you when you need to eat.